Can you imagine this nightmare scenario?
(If you’re reading this, you might not even have to imagine… You may be living it!)
In any case, it’s frighteningly common, and a huge headache for parents.
What should you do if you’re traveling and the airline loses your car seat? What if you arrive at your destination and the car seat is too damaged from the flight to use?
If your airline lost your car seat during a flight, make sure you check the jet bridge and the oversized luggage desk to make sure it’s really gone. If so, the airline should be able to provide you with a loaner or replacement car seat. If they can’t, things get tricky, but you do have some other options including checking the rental car center or having one adult from your party buy a new car seat from a nearby store.
But there’s so much more to know about flying with a carseat and what to do if it gets lost, forgotten, or damaged. Let’s learn more!
Step One: Are You Sure the Airline Lost Your Car Seat?
Your car seat is lost! Oh no!
Before you panic, take a deep breath.
Car seats are not your typical piece of a luggage, so it’s possible if you can’t find it at baggage claim, it may be somewhere else within the airport.
For example: Did you gate check the car seat?
Gate checking is when you bring your car seat all the way to the gate and leave it on the jet bridge before you board, where it’s then stowed away with the other luggage.
This is really common for strollers, which you might need to get your child through the airport, and it’s also useful on full flights. Airline staff will ask passengers to gate check bags when they run out of room in the overhead bins.
If you gate checked your car seat, it may be waiting for you on the jet bridge right when you get off the plane — not at baggage claim.
(If you’ve already left your gate and arrived at baggage claim, see a baggage claim representative and have them call back to the gate for you.)
The other place to check is the oversized cargo area.
When we’ve traveled with a carseat through our very own Atlanta airport, we’ve often had to check it in at a special desk reserved for very large luggage.
It’s possible your car seat could be waiting for you there at your destination.
Step Two: Track Your Car Seat Down and Get a Replacement or Loaner
If you can’t find your carseat anywhere, it’s time to visit the baggage claim desk and begin the long, painful process of tracking it down.
Visit the baggage services desk and a representative will do their best to find what may have happened to your lost carseat — it may have been left in your departure airport or it may have been sent somewhere else entirely!
If they’re able to find it, they’ll often have it shipped directly to you as soon as they can.
But… that doesn’t really help you get out of the airport with your child and no carseat, does it?!
The airport or airline should be able to provide a replacement or loaner car seat if they lost yours.
The replacement car seat may be one they keep on hand, or it may be one they’ve pulled from their own lost and found.
In any case, there’s really no telling what kind of condition the carseat is in and what kind of history it might have.
(Even minor, invisible damage to a carseat can make it unsafe to use.)
It’s up to your own comfort level how you feel about using a mysterious loaner carseat for your child.
However, it may be good enough to use in this tricky situation.
Airlines/airports may or may not want their replacement carseats back at a later date.
If you’re forced into this situation, try to complain your way into a future flight voucher for the inconvenience!
Another Option: Visit the Rental Car Facility
If the airport or airline can’t offer you a replacement and/or you’re not comfortable using an old car seat pulled out of the lost and found, you have another option:
Head on over to the rental car center (usually accessed by shuttle, tram, or a short walk from the airport).
Plead your case to the rental companies there and see if any of them have car seats on hand available to borrow or rent.
If worst comes to worst and no one will let you borrow or rent just the car seat, you can see if they have stock on hand to rent you a car AND a car seat.
If they do, you should 100% send this bill along to the airline that lost your original car seat.
You can even take your rental car directly to the nearest Target or Walmart to buy a new car seat, and then return your rental.
If You Can Split Up Your Party…
If you’re running low on options and you happen to have two capable adults in your party, try this:
Leave one adult in charge of the child or children at the airport while the other takes an Uber/Lyft/Taxi (or your own car, if available) to the nearest Walmart or Target to buy a new car seat.
The whole ordeal may take a while depending on where your airport is located, but worst case, you’ll be back at the airport in a few hours with a brand new car seat ready to go.
Hopefully, the kids and adult-in-charge will be OK at the airport for a while. There will be plenty of space to run around, snacks, food, etc.
Of course, this is a massive inconvenience, and I would push hard for your airline to pay for the cost of the new car seat and even vouchers or credits for the trouble.
Extra Trips to Avoid a Lost Car Seat Fiasco While Flying
If you’re worried about the airline possibly losing your car seat, but you need to fly, there are a couple of things you can do to help prevent a problem.
First, whenever possible, bring an extra car seat from home — not the same one you used to drive to the airport.
That way, at least on your return leg, if something happens with the car seat you flew with, you’ll still be able to get home.
For toddlers and young kids, you can bring an extra travel-size car seat or booster either instead of, or in addition to, your normal car seat
I love the Mifold travel booster for toddlers that can safely sit in a booster seat. It can fold up neatly into your suitcase. I wouldn’t trust it with every day driving but it’s fantastic in a pinch.
Next, choose to gate-check the car seat or booster if possible — this way it doesn’t go through the whole baggage system, it goes directly onto the plane and then gets unloaded directly onto the jet bridge right when you land.
It gets stowed with the other luggage during the flight, but it gives me a little peace of mind that it’s less likely to get lost.
Better yet, USE your car seat on the plane! That way it never leads your sight. If your car seat is FAA approved (almost all of them are, these days), the airline should have to allow you to use it. That means your child will need to be buckled in during flight.
Finally, if you do choose to check your car seat, at the gate or otherwise, it’s helpful to get a carrying case for it.
A car seat travel case makes it way easier to carry and protects it from damage. Airline workers are doing their best, but they aren’t always the most careful. Car seats can get pretty dinged up during transport.
A lot of people advise against checking car seats at all because the damage is not always easily noticeable after your travel. Even a hairline crack could make it unsafe to use, so proceed with caution.
No matter what occurred at the airport, a child should not ride without a car seat — check your local state laws for exact age and weights, but usually children under 8 and around 80 pounds should at least be in a booster seat.
Even if it’s completely the airline and airport’s fault, you’re going to have to find a solution so you can get out of there safely and legally.
As a last resort, you can request a ride with a car seat from most of the big rideshare apps like Uber, however, only in select cities. Sometimes there’s a surcharge for this, but it’s worth a shot.
And whatever you figure out, lean on the airline to pay you back for your costs and inconvenience!
If the airline won’t help you? Go public. Calling, emailing, and complaining through the usual channels can sometimes be a treadmill. If you post in a public forum (like social media) and tag them, you may find their social customer service team a lot more responsive.
Best of luck out there, travelers!
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Hope this helps!